It could be weeks before the public learns what caused a fatal open-water collision some 60 miles offshore on Aug. 27, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
The incident took the life of an experienced Delaware fisherman, 63-year-old Chris F. Ragni.
A spokesman for the Coast Guard confirmed that they are investigating the two-boat accident, but a conclusion is not imminent.
Early witness reports indicate that one boat was trolling while the other was deep-dropping — which means that boat would not have been moving — when they collided.
Paramedics from the Ocean City Fire Department responded to the collision on a Coast Guard boat after reports of “serious trauma.” When they arrived, one man was found to have suffered a minor head injury and refused treatment. Ragni was pronounced dead en route to shore.
The boat carrying Ragni and two others capsized and sank as a result of the collision.
Leslie Murphy was on the water with family and friends about two miles away from the accident. Their boat, the Leslie Ann, was the first to respond to the scene.
“I was up on the bridge with my husband and we got the mayday call,” Murphy said.
Fortunately, their boat had three nurses aboard to help administer aid once they arrived a few minutes later.
The colliding boats were of similar size, Murphy said. Both were Grady Whites — the one that sank was 28 feet long and the other 33 feet long.
The collision site was over the Baltimore Canyon, a popular fishing spot, but boat traffic was unusually light for this time of year. The water was smooth and visibility was good, Murphy said.
“It was a clear, beautiful day,” she said. “(I guess) neither of the boats saw each other.”
Because of how long it would have taken for emergency personnel to arrive, the Leslie Ann headed to shore and met the Coast Guard about 20 miles offshore.
Though they were close enough that they could see the two boats from their location, Murphy’s party did not witness the accident.
“What we did see was one boat was completely capsized but floating,” she said. “The captain of the boat was the only person still in the water, clinging in the water.”
Murphy noted that one of the men on the boat that capsized was a fireman who was vital to pulling Ragni out of the water.
Two other boats eventually responded, one of which had a paramedic on board.
“The young boy on the boat, the fireman, was doing everything that he could to try to save Chris’s life,” Murphy said. “If he wasn’t trained in fire or water rescue, (Ragni) wouldn’t have gotten out of the water, to begin with. He was the one that started CPR.”
Murphy said she saw no injuries on Ragni. Others on the scene told her that while clinging to the capsized boat, he seemed fine one minute and then started to “drift off.”
Ragni’s son, Chris Ragni, identified his father as the victim in the collision in a Facebook post over the weekend.
“As most of you know, my father [Chris F. Ragni] passed away yesterday after a tragic boating accident while he was fishing yesterday with his buddies,” Ragni said. “He passed away while doing what he loved to do, surrounded by his friends.”
He went on to thank those who took him fishing and those who tried to save his life.
A GoFundMe page was created to assist Ragni’s family with funeral costs and had raised $19,583 as of Wednesday afternoon. The fundraiser can be found at https://gofundme.com/f/chris-ragni-sr-expenses.
Staff Writer Greg Wehner contributed to this report.